Ownership requirements

Border collie working dog lying on the grass

There are a number of requirements that owners of farm working dogs in particular must be aware of.

Where the owner of a dog is under 18 years of age, their parent or guardian is deemed the legal owner responsible for ensuring the dog's welfare needs are met.

These needs include:

  • dogs on moving vehicles
  • registration
  • housing
  • tethering of farm working dogs
  • health
  • attacks on stock.

1. Dogs on moving vehicles

Dogs can suffer terrible injuries if they are not secured properly while on moving vehicles. They can be hit by other cars or suffer strangulation when their leash has allowed them to fall over the vehicle's side.

It is a legal requirement to secure dogs on moving vehicles (utes, trays, and trailers) so they cannot:

  • fall or jump from the vehicle or
  • be injured from the movement of the vehicle.

Dogs on utes need extra care in the hot weather. If using a metal cage to transport dogs, make sure it has:

  • a roof to provide shade
  • sides that are well ventilated (meshed rather than solid material).

Dogs secured to metal trays when the temperature is at, or exceeds, 28 degrees Celsius require access to an area insulated from the hot metal surface.

This law does not apply to dogs when they are in the process of moving stock.

When securing dogs, the restraint:

  • must be long enough to allow the dog to stand, lie down and move about
  • cannot enable the dog's front or hind legs to reach the side of the tray, when the dog is standing normally.

Attach the restraint by a swivel to an anchor point against the vehicle cabin. Fix the other end of the chain to the dog’s harness or leather collar with another swivel to stop the chain from tangling. There is a penalty for breaking this law under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

2. Registration

Under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, all dogs 3 months of age and over must be registered with the local council. Existing registrations must be renewed by 10 April each year. Dogs must wear their council identification marker when off the property. Check with your council to find out how many dogs you can keep before you need to get a permit for excess animals.

Registering and identifying dogs improves their chances of being returned to you if they become lost. Registration fees also provide a wide range of other important services. You are eligible for reduced registration fees if your dog meets the definition of a farm working dog under the Domestic Animals Act 1994. To be eligible, you must be engaged in primary production as your primary source of income. Your dog must herd, drove, protect, tend or work stock on land used solely or primarily for primary production.

It is an offence to knowingly register a non-farm working dog as a farm working dog.

Dogs registered with local council as farm working dogs do not count towards a property's fertile female dog breeding limit. If you keep farm working dogs entire, there is no requirement to register as a Domestic Animal Business (DAB) nor meet the Code of Practice for the Operation of Breeding and Rearing Businesses 2014 (revision 2018). However, if you keep more than three female dogs entire for the purpose of breeding, and they are not registered with council as farm working dogs — you must register as a breeding domestic animal business, regardless of the breed of dog.

Working dog breeds that are bred for the pet market, such as border collies or kelpies, are not captured in the definition. They cannot be registered as a farm working dog if they are not primarily kept or trained for the purpose of:

  • droving
  • protecting
  • tending
  • working stock on a farm.

Please contact your local council for further details.

Dogs being registered for the first time must be microchipped before registration. This gives dogs a permanent means of identification, and ensures they can be returned to you if they become lost and lose their collar and tag identification. You can be fined if you fail to comply with registration requirements.

3. Housing

Dog sitting outside its kennel

Ideally, dogs should be kept in securely fenced areas, or where adequate fencing is not available, in pens.

The use of electronic collar containment systems does not constitute adequate fencing (the use of these collars is also regulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986).

Tethering should only be considered as a last resort and regulations that apply to tethered dogs are discussed in the next section.

Regardless of how they are housed, dogs must always have ready access to a kennel, shed or other protection from the elements and for sleeping.

Kennels should be:

  • an appropriate size for the particular animal
  • have adequate ventilation
  • if made of metal, should be kept out of direct sunlight or should be effectively insulated.

Dogs also require daily exercise appropriate to the age, health, working status and breed of the individual animal. Tethered dogs should be allowed off for a minimum of 2 hours daily.

Pens should provide enough space for each dog to comfortably move about and lie down, and provide areas for urinating and defecating that are well away from feeding and sleeping areas.

Pens need to be drained appropriately to allow water to run off and kept hygienic with regular cleaning (it may also be necessary to seal the surface of pens). A separate pen should be used for any whelping female dogs.

You can be fined under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 if your dog is not securely confined to your property.

4. Tethering of farm working dogs

While tethering is not recommended — where it is unavoidable, the Code of Practice for the Tethering of Animals sets out a number of safety requirements listed here:

  • A suitable tethering site should be chosen that is reasonably flat, free of obstructions (including rocks), and not be situated in a waterlogged or flood-prone area.
  • Dogs must not be tethered adjacent to a fence or other obstacle in a manner that places them at danger of death by hanging.
  • The site must provide a minimum tether radius of 3 metres, allowing 6 metres of run.
  • A suitable kennel must be provided for shelter from the elements and for sleeping.
  • Dogs must have access to water and a physical shelter at all times.
  • The location of the kennel must not cause a threat of entanglement.
  • The acceptable material for a tether is metal chain.
  • Fixed and running tethers require the fitting of an appropriate collar, with a swivel to which the tether is attached. Fixed tethers must be fixed to an anchor point (preferably with another swivel) that allows 360 degrees of movement at ground level, and allows the dog to cover the area without tangling. Running tethers must have a strong wire that is secured at either end to trees, fences or posts, but must have stops at either end to ensure the tether cannot become entangled or injure the dog.
  • You are legally responsible for the welfare and supervision of any dogs that you have tethered.

Tethered dogs must be inspected regularly (at least twice during daylight hours in each 24 hour period, and increased to 3 times or more in very hot weather).

All tethered dogs should be let off tethers at least 2 hours a day during daylight hours.

  • Collars, tether chains, swivels, wires and anchor points must be regularly inspected for signs of wear.
  • Dogs must not be tied closely together unless under very close supervision.
  • Dogs less than 4 months old should not be tethered.
  • Dogs must be closely monitored when tethered for the first time, until it is certain they have adapted to tethering.
  • Females in season must not be tethered where entire males may have access.
  • Females about to give birth must not be tethered.

5. Health

You are responsible for providing an adequate level of health care for dogs in your possession to avoid prosecution under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986. There are requirements for adequate nutrition and health care standards.

Within these legal obligations you are required to attend promptly to issues of animal welfare. This legal obligation includes providing appropriate pain relief and veterinary care to injured dogs.

6. Attacks on stock

Under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, you can face substantial fines and claims for damages if your dog attacks a person or animal. Dogs found guilty of an attack can also be:

  • humanely destroyed
  • declared dangerous (resulting in very strict controls on the dog's housing, exercise and ownership).

In addition, the Domestic Animals Act 1994 allows, under certain conditions, the owner of livestock to immediately destroy dogs found at large near livestock (in the place where livestock are confined or in the vicinity in which they are tethered).

Even friendly domestic dogs or farm working dogs that would never attack a person can still attack stock if allowed to wander unsupervised. There are a number of things you can do to prevent dog attacks:

  • Ensure your dogs are always securely confined when not working (see the Housing section for details).
  • Never allow dogs to play with livestock (during play, dogs learn the hunting skills for later attacks).
  • Don't encourage other dogs to visit your property (even if they belong to a neighbour).
  • Check your property boundaries regularly, keeping fences repaired and gates closed. Attacking dogs could enter via open gates and through, over or under the weakest parts of fences.
  • Listen for signs of attacks — don't ignore disturbances during the night (for instance, the sound of stock running or prolonged barking by your own dogs may indicate an attack).

For more advice or information

Contact your local council if you have questions about your rights and responsibilities as a dog owner. Your council will also deal with concerns about wandering or nuisance pets.

Find out more about responsible pet ownership or call 136 186.

Page last updated: 10 Jan 2022